Jonathan Marks, "Let's Be Reasonable: A Conservative Case for Liberal Education" (Princeton UP, 2021)


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Do we really need universities and colleges anymore? Have they become too politicized? Many conservatives have started to write off American academia. They contend that it is so irremediably, irretrievably woke that the best that those on the right can hope for is to try to advance their ideas and live according to their principles outside it.

Other conservatives still in academe just keep their heads down and try to maintain some kind of conservative presence within it, get their work done and do their best for their students.

What does the increasing dominance of the left/liberal worldview in academe have on the intellectual development of college students and what are the consequences for conservative academics and for American society at large?

Or are things really that bad for academics who do not swear fealty to left-liberal values? Is there still a healthy respect on college campuses for fundamentals such as the cultivation of reason and respect for the notion of “reasonableness?” Is “reasonableness” even something worth salvaging?

In his 2021 book Let's Be Reasonable: A Conservative Case for Liberal Education (Princeton UP, 2021), Jonathan Marks examines the deleterious effects of the left-leaning sociocultural homogenization of American higher education. He calls upon college instructors to renew their commitment to inculcating in their students the ability to reason for themselves and to reason with others. He argues that a healthy democracy requires a strong base of liberally-educated people given that reason is the best way to solve economic and political problems and simply to lead fulfilling lives.

Marks identifies as a conservative and yet he takes issue with conservatives and populists who are giving up on American higher education as nothing more than a vast leftist indoctrination mill. He disputes this despairing, defeatist position of the right when it comes to academia while presenting a clear-eyed view of how the left does indeed frequently politicize scholarship.

Marks provides a case study of this trend in the shape of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement against the state of Israel.

Jonathan Marks makes a passionate case for the value of liberal education—and lays out clearly what that consists of and its importance for those who consider themselves liberal and those who very much don’t.

This book should be read by academics, college students, parents about to send their children off to college and anyone who cares about where society-shaping new ideas are developed and timeless ones are passed along to new generations. And for millions of Americans, colleges are still where much of this occurs.

Give a listen.

Hope J. Leman is a grants researcher.

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